THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY TELEPHONE WITH SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT ANDREW CUOMO
2:00 P.M. EST
SECRETARY CUOMO: (IN PROGRESS) -- the longer I've been here, and especially given the current circumstances, what has been more and more clear to me is the number one enemy is the alienation that people are feeling from government. Just the overwhelming sense that government is less and less relevant to their daily lives, and government is less and less effective.
So part of what we've been trying to do is reconnect government and citizen. And that's what the President means when he talks about reinventing government -- reinvent government to get back to the original mission and to get back to its "customers," which are the citizens.
We worked very hard to reinvent HUD, which in many ways was one of the more challenged federal departments. I don't know if you remember, but they talked about eliminating HUD back in '94 because it wasn't working well. We've come a long way since then. There's been a fundamental reinvention. The department is smaller than it was before, and it is doing more than it's ever done before. We've won awards from Harvard University, what they call the Innovation Award, which are the Nobel Prize equivalent for government, on what we've done in terms of reinvention.
Building on that newfound credibility, the President will make three very significant announcements tomorrow in our field, the urban development field. First, he'll speak to homeownership. President Clinton made as a goal when he took office the highest homeownership rate in history, and it is today the highest homeownership rate in history -- 67.7 percent of Americans now own their own home.
One of the reasons for that success is that the economy has been so strong it's been driving up the homeownership. Within that, the federal government has its own vehicle to push homeownership, which is called the FHA -- Federal Housing Administration. The FHA does mortgage insurance -- it will insure a mortgage, so it helps people who can't, who are the verge of being able to afford homeownership, it helps get them over the hump, the FHA.
We have a net increase of 10 million homeowners since 1993. Since '93, FHA has helped 4.3 million Americans buy their first home. And we also have a record high homeownership for minorities of 1.9 million minorities.
What the President will announce is that we are raising the maximum loan limit for FHA from $219,000 to just under $240,000. That is a significant increase, and we're doing that because the value of homes has gone up and we want to keep pace with the increase in the value of homes, so we're raising the eligible limit from $219,000 to just under $240,000.
The second announcement that the President will make is that he will announce new efforts to integrate public housing. President Clinton, as you know, has talked about the one America initiative in addressing the issue of race. I believe that the issue of race is one of the most, if not the most, important issue that we're going to face in the future.
Our position here at HUD is if we can't live together, certainly we can't come together. And if you look at how we live in this country, if you look at our housing patterns, our settlement patterns, you see segregated housing patterns. Cruelly, public housing is often the most segregated housing in the nation. And if we're talking about coming together as a nation, we have a President who is talking about the issue of race and one America, surely then public housing, where the taxpayers pay the bill, Uncle Sam's own housing should be a model of integration.
We're going to sign a rule which will integrate public housing in terms of income and race for the first time since public housing has been created, which is over 50 years. We're saying that the public housing authorities across the country, which actually manage the public housing, must deconcentrate poverty and take affirmative steps to promote integration.
The third and final announcement and, in keeping with the holiday season, is the President is going to announce the federal government's efforts to help the homeless. They are at an all-time high, over $1 billion in federal funding to help the homeless. They are also through an entirely different approach, the continuum of care. Harvard University gave us an award for it, which basically talks about taking homeless people and moving them towards independence and putting the steps, the system in place on the local level to help them make that transition from homelessness to independence, and providing whatever services you need to provide in the interim to get them from the street to independent living.
Literally, states, almost every state across the country will win. Four hundred partnerships have been forged across the United States. We will have 2,600 grants, 2,600 projects, helping more than 200,000 homeless people. And as I mentioned, the over $1 billion in funding, the largest in history.
Those are the three announcements that the President is making on homeownership to increase the FHA mortgage rates. The integration of public housing and the affirmative steps to integrate public housing to make it a model of integration for the nation. And the homeless grants, a record over $1 billion.
The President will also speak to the overall context, which is that this nation is doing very well, there's the strongest economy in history. But that doesn't mean that everyone and everywhere, everyone and everyplace is doing well.
And, yes, you have a very strong economy, but you also have many people who are left out, and this holiday season let's remember how much more we have to do for the people and places left behind.
Questions, comments? Please identify yourself.
Q Mr. Secretary, on the matter of integrating housing, since much housing is located originally in ghetto areas, how do you do that? Do you subsidize people that come from other parts of the town or suburbs to live in them, or what do you do?
SECRETARY CUOMO: What we're saying is you must integrate public housing from the universe that is entering public housing. We are not going to go outside of the eligible universe. To go in to public housing, you must meet certain eligibility requirements. Income eligibility is the main one. And the integration must be from within that universe. But within that universe, you have higher incomes and lower incomes, and you have people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. From that universe to the integration. So the higher end of the income spectrum, within that universe, the lower end of the income spectrum within that universe, different races and ethnicities, but all within that universe.
Q But how do you do that? How do you do that by ethnic diversity? Do you suggest that, well, we're going to house people in this building essentially determined by their race? A certain number of whites, certain number of blacks, certain number of Latino?
SECRETARY CUOMO: What we do is this -- you have, let's say a typical housing authority. Let's say it has 10 buildings throughout the city, or throughout the county, whatever the Jurisdiction. You look at each of the buildings, and you do a census of the buildings. You then look at the buildings in comparison, one to the other. If among the 10 buildings you find that there is a concentration of race in some of the buildings, i.e. white buildings and African American buildings. Or you find that you have higher income buildings and lower income buildings. Then you must work to deconcentrate that concentration of race or poverty.
What happens in public housing if you have 10 buildings, the buildings tend to mirror the homogenous nature of the neighborhood that they're in. So you can have a typical housing authority with 10 buildings, you can have five buildings that are predominantly white, five buildings that are predominantly minority. And we're saying that should not be.
We would also get a lot of advocates who will say the buildings that are predominantly white tend to be the better maintained buildings within the housing authority. So this gets very complex. But on the face, we're saying do the census. When you have a concentration of race or poverty, then you must affirmatively work to deconcentrate.
Q To follow up on this, it sounds to me almost like a quota system you're proposing here. Would you move African Americans out of a predominantly black buildings?
SECRETARY CUOMO: No. There are no quota systems whatsoever. What we are saying is, when you have new applicants coming into the building, you should bring in -- allow new applicants in a way that furthers the deconcentration.
So you do your -- you have your 10 buildings, the five that are predominantly white, the five that are predominantly minority. When the next person comes into the system, that person should be admitted to a building that furthers the deconcentration.
Q Just to clarify, Mr. Secretary, deconcentration does not involve proactively moving people from their existing apartments or buildings into other ones, it pertains solely to new applicants entering the system, right?
SECRETARY CUOMO: That's exactly right. Exactly right. So what you're saying is, look, we do the census and we see that there are five buildings that are predominantly white, five buildings that are predominantly minority. What do we do about it?
Well, we don't want to ask people to go back and move, but as new people are coming into the system, let's take the opportunity to alleviate the situation and to deconcentrate. In other words, when a minority family comes in, rather than putting a minority family in one of the already predominantly minority buildings, put the minority family in an integrated building.
When a higher income family moves in -- higher income within the public housing eligibility -- put the higher-income family into the lower-income building to achieve integration.
Q Mr. Secretary, this has been tried, I believe, down in Southeast Texas, a community called Vidor, and apparently it didn't work. What steps will the Department take to enforce this local housing authority?
SECRETARY CUOMO: No, that's a different case. That's a different case. But it speaks to the same point.
What happened in Texas was you had a federal court make a determination that the Housing Authority was deliberately or effectively segregating and violating civil rights laws. That is a different case. You have a federal court that says this housing authority has been operating in a way that violates civil rights laws. And Vidor was a specific case. But you have multiple housing authorities in Texas which are under court order to integrate.
Those were egregious situations where there was purposeful segregation. That's not what we're talking about here today. If you break the law, that's a different case. That could be criminal, that could have civil. We're saying as a matter of policy, look, every housing authority everywhere in the country take a census of what you now have, look at what you have. If there is segregation, then you should affirmatively work to desegregate.
There may be no segregation. A housing authority could look at the 10 buildings, and the 10 buildings could come back fully integrated. In other words, they're integrated by race, they're integrated by income.
However, if, when you look at the housing authority, you look at the buildings, you notice patterns of segregation, then we're going to work to alleviate that segregation. The Vidor, Texas said, you purposefully segregated. That is a different situation.
Q Yes, sir, Mr. Secretary, if I could follow up on that, what about if the housing authority refuses to go along with your rule, your policy? What is HUD going to do then?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Well, first of all, we have talked about -- we've worked this through with the housing authorities, and the housing authority directors overwhelmingly believe that the best housing is the most integrated housing, that diversity is a strength of this nation, and that the housing authority should reflect that. There is also a law, called the Fair Housing law, which we also enforce, which says, you shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, sex in a housing determination. So you cannot segregate intentionally. That's what happened in Vidor. That's a violation of the law. And if you had a housing authority that was purposely either disobeying a federal law or purposely segregating, that would be a different case.
Q Mr. Secretary, I have two questions for you. One, I'm wondering what kind of criteria you'll be using to decide whether or not segregation exists in a particular housing project. And, two, will any of this program be endangered by the change of administration?
SECRETARY CUOMO: This is a law that we're implementing. The law was passed in something called The Public Housing Reform Act. So it is a law. A new administration would have to change the law, which means they would have to go to the Congress and they would have to change the law. This is not just a departmental action, it's a departmental implementation of a law that we proposed, but which was passed by Congress.
We are not, on how this is implemented, we are not doing anything directly. We're saying to the local housing authorities, you do the census, you look at the 10 buildings, 100 buildings, 200 buildings, whatever it is -- you do the census, you look at the income breakdown and the racial breakdown. If, once you do the census, there is segregation, then you must work affirmatively to accomplish desegregation.
But it's up to the housing authority to do the analysis of its own projects and to do its own census.
Q Also, just following up on that, Mr. Secretary, can you elaborate a bit on what you see as a benefit to integrating public housing.
SECRETARY CUOMO: You know, when you talk to the public housing directors, and from my travels over the past eight years, I believe the best housing communities are the most diverse, most integrated housing communities. I believe that the diversity is a great source of strength for this nation, not a weakness whatsoever. It if was a weakness, then the country wouldn't be the leading country on the globe. What made us work was the diversity. And public housing should mirror that.
And that's why we did this, it's the law of the land and Congress passed it. But, again, the public housing authorities overwhelmingly thought this was a good idea and overwhelmingly supported it. The case in Vidor, the case in Texas, you have a handful of housing authorities that violate the law -- which, by the way, you have private landlords who violate the Fair Housing law, you have commercial landlords who violate the Fair Housing law.
We will bring several thousand cases, over my term, of violations of the Fair Housing law. So you always get some people who break the law. But overwhelmingly, they thought it was a good thing.
Q If it's overwhelmingly supported, and its the local housing authority that are making the decisions themselves, and are going through this process themselves, why do they need a federal rule?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Because we want to also say, this is the law of the land. Integration is a good thing. Segregation is a bad thing. And we believe most people feel that way. But also, it is one of the underlying principles of this nation. Discrimination is un-American, and discrimination is illegal. And public housing should, if anything, be the strongest case for integration. It is literally the housing that the people of the nation pay for. So it's the law of the land.
Now, as I said, there are some cases where the segregation is so egregious that we've even found where it has been illegal. And Vidor is indicative of that. Those again are a handful of bad actors within the overall scheme of things. But it's the law of the land, and we want to make public housing a model.
I have the homeless grants and the loan limits are the other two announcements. The FHA loan limits and the homeless grants, we haven't spoken about that. So if anyone has any questions about that?
Q I'd just like to know, Mr. Secretary -- I'd just like to know where tomorrow we can call if we want to get specific state numbers. I don't want to take up everybody's time trying to get the California numbers. I ask this question every -- for those of us who volunteer to work every Christmas, this has become a great Christmas Eve tradition for us, doing this particular story. And those are the numbers that we need every year. So is there a phone number or someone who will be on duty?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Would you do me a favor and call my wife and tell her that this is a great Christmas Eve tradition?
Q You and I have done the story in past Christmases. You may not remember, but I was sitting here listening to you, thinking, I wonder what Secretary Cuomo is going to be doing next Christmas at this time without another --
SECRETARY CUOMO: I don't know, what would you do on Christmas Eve if you don't have homeless grants to announce?
Q Well, this is, I think, what, the fourth year in a row?
SECRETARY CUOMO: You know what's funny? It's eight years for me, because I was the Assistant Secretary before, and I ran the homeless programs. So it's been eight years. Four years as Secretary but eight years. But apparently, some other people do other things on Christmas Eve. They do like gifts, something about gifts. (Laughter.)
Q But I've written this story several times.
SECRETARY CUOMO: This is -- I'm here with Lisa McSpadden. The state information is on the web tomorrow?
MS. MacSPADDEN: It will be posted on the web as of noon. But we also will be celebrating our usual tradition and will be here tomorrow.
Q Do you have a phone number?
MS. MacSPADDEN: It's 202-708-0980 or 0685.
Q Thank you. Great.
SECRETARY CUOMO: But I can tell you this. I cannot reveal the information, because that would be wrong. But Santa was very good to L.A.
Q Oh, well, that's important. That's good to know.
Q How was Santa to Atlanta? (Laughter.)
Q Mr. Secretary, can you give us the nationwide figures for how many families would be affected by this public housing move?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Public housing move, we don't know, because they have to do the census first. The homeless, we have to make 200,000.
Q That's 200,000 families that will get grants to move into programs?
SECRETARY CUOMO: Yes, 200,000 families that will be benefitted by the homeless grants. Santa was also very happy with Atlanta, Georgia this year. (Laughter.)
Q Can you tell us how many people are right now in the public housing that would -- the buildings, themselves, that would be affected by this change?
SECRETARY CUOMO: There are about 1.3 million families in public housing. But let's be clear. Of the 1.3 million families who are now in public housing, nothing changes, except that the new families who move in when there are vacancies, the new families will come in, in such a way as to further integration. But the exiting families, there is no change.
Q Do you know about what rate or number of people enter the system or would be affected as a result per month or per year?
SECRETARY CUOMO: What is the turnover rate of public housing? That is a good question. We do not know.
Q A follow-up tomorrow, maybe?
MS. MacSPADDEN: Yes, I was going to say you can certainly follow up with myself -- and we'll get that information.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Nobody knows that number. I want to say 10 percent, but I don't know that that's right. But we'll get you a number tomorrow. But of the vacant units, then those units would be filled with families who further the deconcentration of poverty and race if -- if -- that was a segregated building.
Q Do you know if the numbers are going up or down in terms of the rate, the turnover?
SECRETARY CUOMO: We don't know. But they will know tomorrow, because they are far smarter than I.
Anything else on loan limit, on FHA or homeless? All right. This has been a tradition, and for those of you who have done this with us, it has truly been my pleasure and my honor to do this. And in some ways -- although, my wife doesn't fully appreciate it -- (laughter) -- there is no better way to celebrate the holidays than these homeless grants, because that's what it's all about, and if this nation, with all our strength can't do good things for people who are literally on the street today --
Q Sir, can you tell us what the exact amount is on the loan limits now -- $219,000 up to what number?
SECRETARY CUOMO: That's $219,000 up to as high as $239,000 -- $250,000.
Q And is there a total federal budget ceiling for that, I mean, total --
SECRETARY CUOMO: No. No, sir. Okay?
Q Mr. Secretary, what are your plans for the future?
SECRETARY CUOMO: My plans are to finish being HUD Secretary, which will take me through January, then I'm going to head back to my home state of New York and take a look at a couple of different options for the future, and sit down with my wife and come up with a new chapter -- close this chapter and move on to a new one.
Q Well, thank you very much, sir.
SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you.
END 2:30 P.M. EST